Keeping The Softball Lead
This topic is from Kelley Mills of MD Md. She asks, What do you do when you have a lead to keep that lead instead of losing it and then losing the game? We are talking about an issue that many coaches can face right through the season. The time that you most notice it though is in the final tournament when you are playing a team that on paper you should defeat. During the game as your opponent begins to catch up to you, you are likely watching and wondering what the heck is going on. How are we making these errors that we don’t normally make? Then after the game you shake your head and say “how did that happen”?
What has happened is that your team lost focus of the important things about the game. The process. When you look at the score and what should happen, you are focusing on the outcome that hasn’t happened yet. The team might be thinking “we have this one easy” and forgetting that there is still work to do. Your opponents on the other hand, if they are coached by someone like me are either thinking, this is not over till it’s over and we need to fight this one until the last out.
There is something that you can actually do at the beginning of the season to prevent this. You can make sure that your team focuses on the process all the time. Each ball fielded is a new one and each at bat is a new one. During a game where you are leading, by focusing on the outcome, you and the team are not focusing on the process. By focusing on the process and learning how to do that all season, your players will remain in the moment rather than seeing themselves with the trophy at the end of the game or tournament.
How we as coaches approach the situation will have a big effect as well. By focusing on the score, we take the emphasis away from the game plan. We need to continually remind our players that there is still a game to be played and all they need to do is what they know how to do which is field, throw, hit and run the bases. They have done it all year. The only difference is that there is a little more pressure now. There is something on the line. If we can teach them from the beginning how to make that something more of a normal occurrence, it will be easier when we need it.
We also need to teach them how to be humble and not overconfident. Anyone who has watched any sport knows how quickly momentum can change as the scoreboard shifts. By feeling like they have to earn every out and every run, the ability to remain focused on the task at hand will be easier.
I hear people always talking about mental toughness. This is where your team needs to have that mental toughness. My definition of mental toughness is, doing ordinary things under extraordinary conditions. A big tournament is very extraordinary. The pressure and stress alone can be extraordinary. Practice situations where the team needs to perform as close to 100% as they can under various conditions. This will give them experience with the stressor. Teach them how to use mental skills when they are feeling anxious or nervous about the next play. As long as they know that if they play to the best of their ability, what happens happens, the pressure is off and they can enjoy the game.
So, the bottom line is, stay in the moment and focus on the process. Coaches as well need to stay in the moment because as soon as we get stressed, the team gets stressed. We need to breath and accept what is happening while helping our team to stay in the moment. Watch any team and see how the players respond to the coaches emotions. You will see what I am talking about. Also, next time you are coaching a game, see how your team reacts to your emotions. It is amazing.
So I hope this is helpful for you Kelley, and useful for all you coaches out there.